Luke Watson, the Western Province captain who has been linked over the last few days with a move to Bath, last night dismissed any notion that the British and Irish Lions might be underpowered when they begin their Test series against the world champion Springboks in Durban next weekend.
"They are definitely physical enough to be competitive," said the back-row forward. "They have two or three packs here capable of taking on the Boks up front and I believe it's a tribute to northern-hemisphere rugby, where they play Test-style rugby on a weekly basis."
Watson's implication that the Lions could shade the close-quarter contest, at the set-piece and in the maul, reflected concern among a large part of the South African rugby community that this year's Test series might be a far closer contest than at first anticipated. His thoughts were echoed by the Capetonians' coach, Allister Coetzee, who confessed to being impressed by the tourists' improvement over the last fortnight, despite the narrow margin of their victory here yesterday.
"They know when to pick up the tempo, they are very composed in pressure situations and I can tell you it will be one hell of a Test series," he said. "At the same time, I was very happy with our display. There is a perception out there that Western Province are not strong up front, that we don't have the physicality to dominate. But our physicality was very good out there. Three or four mistakes at the end cost us."
Coetzee did not put his hand up to one of the more obvious mistakes: his decision to withdraw his loose-head prop, Wicus Blaauw, four minutes from the end of normal time and replace him with JD Moller.
The newcomer struggled so badly at the set-piece against the Lions' own replacement prop, the Scottish tighthead Euan Murray, that he conceded two penalties for collapsing the scrum, the second of which resulted in James Hook's winning kick from 50 metres.
"If you watched the scrums before that switch, you'd have seen Wicus was absorbing a lot," Coetzee said in his own defence.
The Lions professed themselves reasonably satisfied with a fifth straight win, this one chiselled out in demanding conditions as winter weather ripped into the stadium from the direction of Table Mountain. However, the tourists' head coach, Ian McGeechan, accepted that his side's tactical kicking game left plenty to be desired – especially when compared to the work of Willem de Waal, the outstanding Western Province fly-half.
"We should have been more patient against a side whose approach to attack was 90 per cent kicking," McGeechan said. "Our kicking certainly could have been better at times. Also, I felt we tried to play too much rugby in our own half.
"But those opponents were really intent on making things difficult for us and I felt that under the circumstances, our scrum and line-out went well. As for the breakdown, I was very pleased with our work there. We were up against a very good back-row unit.
"Of course, the intensity will be much higher next week. But if you'd offered me this position before the tour, I'd have taken it. Have we been tested adequately in these build-up matches? Well see next Saturday."
Phil Vickery, who was the Lions' captain for the day in the absence of the Irish lock Paul O'Connell, described the experience of leading out the side as the most emotional of his career.
"These things are meant to get easier as you grow older," said the 33-year-old England tighthead. "I found it a hard thing. But at least I can retire happy now. A 100 per cent record as Lions captain suits me fine."Reuse content